Archive for April, 2017|Monthly archive page

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

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Brenda says…

Brenda is just an ordinary woman in Bristol. She was questioned on the street by a BBC journalist and she said that she was fed up with politics – there is too much of it about at the moment – and she just wanted to live her life in peace. That is a bit of a paraphrase, but only a bit.

Let me be clear, I do not want an election. What is the point in a fixed-term parliament if an insecure Prime Minister decides that she needs a personal mandate for her mendacity and push for majoritarianism and the limited state? However, if we are going to have one – precipitated to some extent by the EU’s interregnum over exit terms – then so be it. But this is no ordinary election. I’m 53 and I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. We can let the Conservative Party for the foreseable future dominate the executive and legislature (not to say judiciary if recent experience is anything to go by) or we can stand up for something bigger.

This is not a party-political election in the normal sense. Notwithstanding Brexit, this is an election to stand up for public services, the NHS, education, housing, social care, the environment, liberty and decency. All of these things the Conservative Party seem to be willing to denude or abolish in pursuit of power. Not the public good.

This will be an ugly island if May achieves her aim. All opposition parties have to work together on this one. This is not about Labour, LibDems, SNP, Green. This is about a future. Brenda needs to engage, vote and learn.

End.

 

Grandaddy – finally

I am a little bit too late sometimes to the party. Somewhere I heard that Grandaddy had sort-of reformed and were doing some shows. Into the ether I went, discovered that they were playing in Brighton, UK, and tried to buy tickets. Sold out. Next option, Brussels’ Ancienne Belgique, 5 April. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

And what did I know about Grandaddy? Well, eventually I made the link between Jason Lytle – whose solo album, The Department of Disappearance (right) I’d bought a few years’ earlier – and Grandaddy. Lytle has a distinctive voice, so it did not take much to make the connection once heard. And I’m a sucker for lumberjack shirts.

I’ve also got into the frame of mind that I missed too many good gigs when I was younger thinking that there would always be another chance. I’m not so sure now. Hence the nonsense of going to Brussels.

So, in preparation for the gig, I bought the new album, Last Place, which the Guardian newspaper described as “solid rather than spectacular”. Apparently, I should have bought the first two albums, these were the dizzy heights. At the gig, I suspect Lytle himself recognised this and played extensively from them. A greying, largely male, audience was appreciative of this. It was anything but a sales push on Last Place.

That said, there are a number of tracks which, I suspect, Lytle himself regards as up to the mark. Much of it is disconcerting. So, I don’t wanna live here any more has the preceding line, “I’ve just moved here”. Seemingly autobiographical – Lytle moved from Montana to Oregon (in the Trumpian world, both sound places to avoid) and perhaps regretted it. Many of us have had that feeling, at least between houses if not states. Keeping up the melancholy, This is the Part a journey to Oregon living maybe? “This is the part, Some call a broken heart; Put down the phone, There’s no one coming home.” Ah yes, this is 2000s world where there are still landline phones. The backdrop for the band on stage is a film depicting this world full of freight trains, trucks, cement factories and a lot of wilderness.

Let’s go upbeat? The Way We Won’t is that pop song. Trademark melody, synth and guitar. The accompanying video, however, has a twist. Lyrically, I’m baffled. Maybe it is culturally too far away from me? “Less than an hour past control tower, On a big box store roof; Cinnamon smell and holiday sales, Why would we ever move?” Oh, I don’t know. I could find a reason.

The gig, wonderful. Lytle’s voice is not the strongest and it needed a bit more amplification. He’s also not the most charismatic on stage and did not even introduce the band members apart from Shaun who’d stood in at last minute on guitar (photo top left, far left).

JPS does blue

I’m back in Germany for the first time in a month. I was not sure what I would find on the cigarette advertising front. Dominant at the moment seems to be JPS’s push into blue (a common colour used by e-cigarette manufacturers and mellow brands). The strapline says something like “enjoy without compromise”. Reading between the lines, does that mean it is not actually as good a proper killer cigarettes? This guy has a fantastic smokers’ cough! “Funky taste of dirt and hay”, he says. Twice. Whilst this review is priceless. I suspect he is not going to review cigarettes for a living any time soon. In fact, JPS have probably had a word with him already. Or at the very least given him a few packets of more potent “coffin sticks” to see  him off quicker.

I note that the current advertising approach where packets are the focus, the camera is angled to avoid the nasty graphic the manufacturers have to put on the front these days. This leaves the important branding visible. Still outrageous to see on street advertising.